Open in five-year deal with BBC

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The Independent Online
The Open Championship will continue to be shown on BBC television for the next five years. The Royal and Ancient yesterday announced they had signed a new and extended contract which will guarantee coverage of the world's oldest major championship on terrestrial TV until 2001.

Michael Bonallack, secretary of the R and A, said: "We are delighted that the long and happy relationship between the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the BBC continues. It means that millions of viewers can still enjoy live coverage of the Open Championship into the next century. Prior to this announcement there had been speculation that the committee were considering switching to satellite coverage whereas in reality this was never a factor in our deliberations.''

This represents an extraordinary about face by Bonallack, who earlier in the year said the R and A were very interested in doing a deal with Sky, adding: "Our policy is to put money back into golf. We could use more money to invest but we can't get it unless we show the Open on satellite TV." He also said that no decision would be made until the BBC's current four-year contract had expired after the 125th Open at Royal Lytham in July.

Sky had offered pounds 25m for a five-year deal, whereas the BBC's old contract was secured for less than a million. The R and A has clearly succeeded in coercing more money from the BBC, although last night both parties were coy about the figures. "We never discuss the sums involved," a spokeswoman for the Beeb said. Jonathan Martin, head of BBC TV Sport, said: "The Open is a huge landmark in every sporting summer and we are delighted to have ensured that coverage will be available to the entire British public." Although the Open is the flagship of the BBC's golf coverage, large holes had appeared in its convoy with the loss to Sky of the Ryder Cup and a host of European Tour events. The timing of the new deal coincides with Sky's announcement that it had gained exclusive rights to the US Open and the US PGA to the turn of the century.

The Open was not one of the nation's "listed" events - the Olympic Games, the World Cup, Test cricket, Wimbledon, the Grand National, the Derby, the FA Cup final and the Scottish FA Cup final - prevented by current legislation from being broadcast on pay-per-view television.

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